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The Yankees' Evil Empire was born on Christmas Eve 12 years ago

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A long time ago (2002) in a galaxy far, far away (Nicaragua) ...

A 31-ish-year-old pitcher named Jose Contreras was granted MLB free agency. Contreras established residency in Nicaragua after defecting from Cuba and he and his representatives were being pursued by a bevy of valiant suitors (MLB GMs). The Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox ... and the Yankees were all in the mix.


On Dec. 24, 2002, the Yankees announced that they had outbid other MLB teams -- specifically the rival Red Sox -- to procure the services of Jose Contreras, widely considered the best hurler on the Cuba national team. The deal came just a week after the Yanks had signed a Japanese slugger named Hideki Matsui.

Red Sox Nation was not thrilled.

Two days later, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino issued a comment on the situation to Murray Chass of The New York Times:

When Lucchino was contacted after the Yankees won Contreras, he initially offered a brusque ''no comment.'' Then he changed his position.

''No, I'll make a comment,'' he said. ''The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.'' Adding another comment, he called the Yankees' acquisition of Contreras ludicrous, echoing the view of officials of just about every other team, not to mention central baseball.

And so baseball's "Evil Empire" was officially born. Things got worse before they got better for the Sox. Contreras went 7-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 18 games during the 2003 season as the Yankees played in yet another World Series (their sixth such appearance in eight seasons). But then ...

... well, 2004 played out a little differently.